Niger's Food Crisis Spirals Downward

Caritas to Discuss Additional Funding

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 27, 2005 ( The most recent mobilization of Caritas-Niger has not been enough to alleviate the country’s rising food crisis, which has left some 3.6 million people at-risk of malnutrition, starvation and disease.

In May, with help from the Caritas network, Caritas-Niger was able to provide 580 metric tons of food for food-for-work activities, and food aid to communities and villages where cereal deficits are more than 50%.

The charity has also provided 300 tons of food for sale at reduced prices, 550 tons of food to help build up cereal banks, and 100 tons of food for distribution to the most vulnerable at no charge.

Improved seeds for sowing and feed for livestock are also being allocated.

Despite this, Niger’s government reports that of the 106 zones faced with food shortages, 56 are in critical condition.

The losses and declining health of livestock, coupled with high costs of cereals, have only exacerbated the already serious situation, reported Caritas Internationalis in a statement to ZENIT.

A grass diet

Caritas-Niger reported that numerous households are cutting back from three meals a day to just one, with many eating leaves and grasses to survive, “which has led to deterioration in their overall nutritional health and an increase in illness, especially among women and children.”

A meeting is scheduled in the coming days to assess further needs and to discuss additional funding available from Caritas members and partner organizations.

Niger’s economy, based on farming activities, is extremely exposed to climactic fluctuations characteristic of the Sahel region.

Niger lives in a situation of permanent food alert, caused by lack of rain and periods of great drought, as well as by an invasion of locust at the end of last year that destroyed the annual agricultural production.

These problems have caused an acute food crisis, which is affecting livestock and increasing to an alarming degree the rate of human malnutrition, especially among women and children, as well as the massive displacement of 50% of the population.

In Niger, out of a population of some 11 million, only 0.18% is Catholic. Muslims constitute 80% of the population, and the rest follow traditional beliefs.

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